Archive for the ‘Failurist Manifesto’ Category

Inspiration From All Directions

July 17, 2011

What makes you stop and think? Are you connected to periodic news feeds from sources you trust? Do you read the newspaper every morning? Does a magazine challenge you to look at the world around you in a different light?

I sometimes forget that other people don’t want to change their world view. They are quite happy to believe the same things as adults that they did as children, in spite of shifts culture and society have made around them. Admitting their perspective on a subject is dated makes them feel like they have been wrong, and admitting they are wrong means they have failed at something, and failing is a sign of weakness. No one wants to admit they are weak, though weaknesses are what make us human, because weaknesses require conscious decisions.

I feel so lucky for my life, because it has given me courage to try things I think might work better for me. This courage does not extend to food however; there are many things I remember tasting at some point in the past that I do not wish to taste again. Mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard are three; salad dressings are others. But give me a peek at a book about something even peripherally related to engineering, science or business and I will figure out a way to integrate it into the method I am developing. I can’t help it. I’m addicted to change. I’m not satisfied with the status quo; I want my own status quo proxima. But being a blabbermouth, I want to tell anyone who will listen what I’ve discovered. The news must be shouted from the hilltops, and spread through every valley. Everyone must have be told their future could be different if they are willing to work harder than they have ever worked in their lives. Dreams others killed need not be out of reach. Failure is no longer an opponent; it can be an ally, or even a friend.

Knowing what works is good, but I think knowing what doesn’t work is better. If you can only pick from a tool box of things that have worked for you in the past, you may not have that many options. If you have a wide range of failures or small detours, you might be able to make different choices when things look hard or tricky or new. If you’ve explored different ways to tackle situations, you might find yourself more flexible in routine situations. Opportunities might appear where none were visible in the past. Alternatives become invitations rather than barriers.

What makes you want to get out of bed and greet the day? Don’t you think tomorrow can be better, simply because you’ll learn something today?

Changing the Status Quo Basement

July 10, 2011

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. The views below are not intended to be a proclamation of aspirations in the mental health field. They are simply observations about something I think I could help change. 

I got back late from my vacation and couldn’t sleep, so I didn’t. I was up until the sun came up, tried to sleep, and only dozed for five hours or so. Then my quest for status quo proxima got me back to my desk and I started catching up on things I didn’t want to bother with while while I was away. While I was going through the “daily reflections for highly effective people” that I took along with me but didn’t actually do, I realized a couple of things about two people who I hope to recruit for my campaign to change the world. They are similar ages and dispositions, and first impressions might lead you to recognize they are the first people to put themselves down. Both have raised “self victimization” to a high art. The only thing you can say to criticize them is that they steal all the comments you might want to make yourself.

That might make them the last group of people I would want to tackle, but I think it actually makes them the first. If they can manage to give themselves a chance when it comes to change, I think they would be great role models for others who are like them. How many of us know people who seem to be the opposite of luck magnets? Anything that can go wrong for them does, and they are happy to tell you about it. They raise “woe is me” to new levels that the rest of us stand back and observe cautiously while thinking, “I’m glad I have a more positive attitude.”

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine that I can actually do something to help someone like this get out of their own way. What happens if they can turn themselves around and get out of the kind of situation most of us dread? They’ve vacated the basement of the status quo. Nature abhors a vacuum. What will happen when the weight of the culture around these two people shifts because they are no longer there for the rest of us to look down on?

Someone new will be in the basement. Someone else who is slightly less of a victim will find there is no one to pick on anymore. Maybe these new basement dwellers are just bullies who never did much other than bully people who were already victimizing themselves. They didn’t have to do very much to feel better about themselves, because a simple glance would make the self victims go back to the basement. What will they do if the floor is taken away from them? How are they going to feel when they are at the bottom, and those of us who have risen above bullying and self-victimization recognize what they have been doing?

Would they be the next audience for my offerings? Can I really be so bold (or arrogant) as to suggest that I could help them as well? What would it mean to society of the basement of status quo kept moving UP because the people who occupied it decided to move somewhere else? It’s one thing for people who get the implications of what I am talking about and join me to raise the ceiling for where we could all go together. But can I really drain some of the sludge out of the bottom of the lake and raise all the ships by changing where the bottom of the lake used to be?

I’m obviously very tired, but maybe that is a good thing. I haven’t spoken to either of the people I was thinking about when I came up with the idea for this post. Both of them scare me with their skill at running themselves down. I actually find myself being uncomfortable around them because they suck negative energy out of me, leaving me with the feeling I somehow had a role in their victimization. Maybe they are just manipulating me because their victimization gives them control of their situation. They’ve been practicing this behavior for a very long time. It won’t be a quick fix or an easy one.

But imagine how failure at this would validate their victimization. They would still be at the bottom of the status quo basement, and might have actually dug themselves in a little deeper, because they were able to thwart my efforts to help them rise above their condition. When you don’t have much, maybe being the person most pitied has value the rest of us would never appreciate. We want to be as far away from the basement as possible, and the energy we give off powers their world.

Should I bother to do this? Am I opening Pandora’s Basement?

Reversing Perspective

July 2, 2011

This evening as I got out my wireless keyboard to write this post, I realized there wasn’t enough room on the book I was using as a lap desk for my iPhone. Or rather, there wasn’t enough room if I wanted to be comfortable and also see the keyboard. So I moved the keyboard higher, up close to my knees, and put the iPhone between my hands, below the keyboard.

Problem solved.

How often do we reverse problems and find a solution that wasn’t obvious the usual way we do things? I think that this failing is part of our status quo addiction. We find something that works and stick with it, never pushing beyond to something that might be better. We are happy with good enough because better seems like too much trouble. Or work.

I don’t remember who said it, but there is a quote that really gets it right. Paraphrasing, the problem with setting the bar low is not that you will fail but that you will succeed and never know you could have done more. How many of us coast along through life, stepping over bars that are barely above our knees, when we are quite capable of clearing something at eye-level?

I suppose this is where my “failurist manifesto” comes up again. I would rather test my limits and fail doing something really hard than succeed doing something so easy I could do it in my sleep, because that probably means I have been doing it in my sleep.

What opportunities did you miss today because you were on cruise control? What could you do better that would nudge you toward a better future?

Using Existing Tools

July 1, 2011

More than a year ago, I bought a really nice tool called Things because it ran on my iPod Touch. There was also a version for the Mac, so I got that as well. The tool was built to support the philosophy of David Allen, which he told us all about in Getting Things Done. I read part of the book years ago but never finished it. Since the custom tool i am building is quite a handful on my iPhone and a little clunky on my iPad, I thought I would go back and look at Things, to see if I missed something.

Boy, do I feel silly. About half of what I have built my tool to do was already there in Things, and it works just fine on all three devices if I just take time to set it up to be used. And though I don’t have my laptop with me, I have figured out that the iPad version will be a good reinforcement tool for the remainder of the trip.

The nice thing about it is that I can get a sense of what Things won’t do that I feel I need my custom tool to do. Some of what my tool does are what Things does with “tags”. It even has something like the filters I built. But what is best of all, at least for this trip, is that it works pretty consistently across the two devices I have with me.

So for the next ten days, I’m going to get very familiar with what Things can do for me on the devices I have with me, so I can drop my need for further development of those features in my custom tool. Unless there is a compelling reason to duplicate what Things does, I’ll just keep using it as my tool of choice.

What does this mean for my business startup? Haven’t I just killed off one of the reasons people would want to buy what I hope to be selling by the end of the year?

Well, I think it might actually improve the functionality and features of my tool, because I can provide a solution to the problems people start to run into when they’ve gotten into the GTD mindset using a tool like Things.

I want to go beyond Getting Things Done and Things. Some conversations I’ve had with people on this trip convince me there is a need for what I could offer, even if the marketplace doesn’t recognize what I do as a segment. That gives me a little more time to figure out how it will all work, and gives me a way to get people oriented before I invite them to be partners.

How would I do that, you ask? I get them to start using Things themselves. If they need a little help, I can offer a booklet or some blog posts that will get them started. If they aren’t willing to do that work first, then there is no point in me spending time holding their hands.

If that sounds like a counterproductive business practice, I guess I will have to figure out how to soften it, without giving in to those who aren’t ready to work harder than they’ve ever worked before. I expect to raise the bar higher than most people will be able to see, but I know that won’t win me any friends. There may be five or six brochures people need to go through to be ready to even talk to me. If they haven’t done their homework, I don’t know that they are ready to going farther. I’m willing to reach back to the person behind me and offer them a rope to pull themselves up closer to where I am, but they have to pull themselves up on their own.

And if they think they are going to find someone who has mastered everything I want to do, they better come back and read this post. I am doing the same things they are doing. The gremlins I’m trying to conquer are just as tough as the ones they have to deal with. They might think some of my gremlins are trivial, or not even see them as problems. But the things that are holding me back are still there, and I need to figure out how to move past them.

We all want to make progress and move on to the next stage of our lives. I just happen to be one of those people who wants to move farther and faster. I’m happy to help others who want to join me, but I’m going to expect them to work as hard as I am working. If they’ve mastered things I haven’t, they can coach me. If I’ve mastered things they don’t know they need to learn, I can coach them. But they’ll have to do the work.

Nothing ever comes cheap in this world. There are no shortcuts that don’t turn out to be detours later. The reason people get what they really want is that they work harder at it than anyone around them. Luck plays very little role in it. If it looks like luck, it is usually because you never saw what they were doing for five or six or seventeen years before their success.

I’ve been working on this dream for at least 10 years, maybe 15. I saw pieces of what I know how to build when I was in a zone back in 1979. I feel a little like I’m close to that zone again. I was working with four or five other people on a large system conversion, something I managed to understand and actually build 80% of by myself. The other people built the rest. My part was the complex part, and it worked for our customer for the better part of 25 years. Some of those ideas, about interchangeable components, are part of what I hope to build. But that won’t be what makes it possible to change the world.

The world will change because a few of us will see how really disciplined people can pool their differences to solve problems other people think are impossible. We might feel the same way about those problems when we start off, but in a very short time we will discover impossible is just a nice place to find interesting problems that can be solved with hard work.

And finding people who are willing to put in three months working with a tool like Things to get their own personal discipline established will mean we can put together teams that don’t typically exist in business. What’s more, those teams might not be in the same physical location.

It’s late and I’m tired, so I think I better stop leave the details for another time. I have plenty of issues to work out myself, but I think I have some ideas about what I want to ask of others.

Come back later if you want to find out more. I’ll probably add a new thread to this blog and put the “brochures” over there. It will help if you are a Mac person, but an iPhone or iPad would also be enough. All you will need is your own copy of Things.

If you are willing to invest a few dollars in your future, I’m willing to share some hints about what I think we could do together. If anyone is actually out there reading this, post a comment and we can talk. It could be really fun and eventually quite profitable for us, even if all we do is get better at what we currently know is possible.


June 30, 2011

Today, we watched more than a hundred senior athletes compete at a high level and raise the bar numerous times. When the award ceremony was over, there were dozens of reasons to have shed a tear, and not just because a relative had finished a race.

One particularly amazing feat was the 95 year old gentleman who set a Senior Games record in the 100 yard freestyle, posting a time that most of us would struggle to beat at half, or a third of his age. I found out from a swimmer staying at our hotel that a coach from her club, an 80 year old man, is still coaching, as well as swimming.

I spoke to him after the race and asked what I could do to start getting ready for Cleveland in 2013. His reply was what would expect from a coach.

1. Swim 50 yards without stopping.
2. Take a 15 second break and swim another 50 yards.
3. Repeat until you can do this for a half an hour without more than a 15 second break.
4. Do this routine three times a week.
5. When you are doing 50 yards without stopping, for two months, add 25 yards to your routine, still taking 15 seconds between sessions. Continue until you are doing a half an hour practice without having to stop for more than 15 seconds.
6. Work up to 4 lengths (100 yards) at a time, then 8 lengths.

His point was that one doesn’t get better until one is training beyond the point of being tired. But once you get comfortable with getting tired, it is just hard work.

I hope to see him again in Cleveland in 2013, even if my Mother does not compete. I hope to be in the pool as well. I expect I can learn how to practice persistence. It is the sort of habit that will make everything else I need to do that much easier, because I will have learned to keep going when I am tired.

Ideas Building On Ideas

June 29, 2011

Yesterday down by the pool, I was trying to watch a TED talk by Charles Leadbeater. It was recorded back in 2005 and posted in 2007. I can’t figure out how to add a link from my iPhone so you’ll have to work it out yourself until I get back home and update this.

Anyway, here I am typing on my wonderful little keyboard watching text show up on my iPhone screen right there in the WordPress application. I bet it is even saving my updates every minute or so because the regular online version works that way. And why would an iOS version work any different.

(Excuse the aside, but someone out in the lobby of the atrium just started yodeling, making me want to get up and join them. But I suspect it will wake Mother. Guess I better stick to my task for the evening.)

Anyway, about three minutes into this talk by Charles Leadbeater, he starts talking about how “pro-am” efforts are changing product development. Very serious amateurs are coming up with ideas and just making them work. His description of collaboration hit me a different way, and made me remember some ideas I had when I was still working for a big company. No one there could understand them then and I suspect that even with Facebook and Twitter as examples I could quote now, they still wouldn’t get it. It’s something so innovative it boggles even my mind, and that is saying something.

Anyway, the idea builds on the current set of tools I want to build for individuals, and is only possible because of what will happen when a few dozen people have mastered the discipline required. That is when the magic happens, in several different ways. See how many of these ideas you think are impossible, and then stop for a moment and realize I am only sharing the ones I am not worried anyone could steal. Part of my confidence is that no one would ever believe I could find twenty people who would want to work as hard as I think we could work. Another part is that the initial premise is so far beyond the experience anyone has seen even on an extreme reality program. And that starting point is what we show people who are still outside of our reality distortion field.

Does the concept of this interest you?

I have no idea, so let’s try a little test. If the premise I have suggested above is something you want to hear more about, just add a comment to this blog posting. If more than three people want to hear more, I will say more about this. If not, then it isn’t time, and I will have learned something.

But trust me, if we ever make a movie of this, it won’t be anything like “The Social Network”. It will be a lot more fun and it will happen a lot faster. And doing it with friends or interested bystanders would be something I think we could test, if only to validate the basic principles.

Anyone want to find out more? Or am I talking to myself?

Why Aspire To More?

June 24, 2011

A couple of days ago, Peter Bregman wrote a nice article on his Harvard Business Review blog and it clicked with me. I seem to have had it pretty easy these past six decades, and actually get a little nervous about success. But articles like this make me step back and look at the absurdity of those fears.

Peter mentions a book by a friend who ended up as president of the world bank, who got into fencing with no experience at all. This friend had enough spunk to just try something that was over his head and make things up as he went. He found he liked fencing and ended up going to the Olympics, and did quite well in the end.

How many of us take opportunities to just jump into something completely out of our range of experiences and try it? I don’t mean skydiving without a parachute; I mean trying a restaurant we don’t think we would like, or tasting a dish we don’t like the look of. I’m horrible that way, and it probably reflects something about my character I don’t realize. But when it comes to ideas or techniques or intellectual concepts, I’m like a magnet. You can’t keep me away from shiny objects.

This morning, there was another timely post from Seth Godin. (It’s also about fencing.) How many of us depend on an outside stimulus to get us moving? Look around you and see if your boss is watching. There isn’t a boss, not like there was ten or even five years ago. Anyone you report to is probably more worried about what their boss is thinking.

These two ideas make me wonder why someone who has seen so much would want even more. That’s an easy question. I’ve had periods in my life when I was in a zone, and I want to be there again. Since I started working on my planning and tracking tool, I’ve had flashbacks to those times. I want the rest of my life to be as good as the best of those times, or better.

But I won’t get there is I’m not striving for more, not a couple of times a week or even once a day, but all day long. I need to take lessons I learned from Deming and Pareto and Humphreys and Smith and Mandelbrot and put them to work for me. There are so many people who have figured out pieces of the puzzle. I’ve seen lots of those pieces and have figured out a way to get them to work together. Why would I stop short?

Unlike the character Peter writes about, I didn’t have a tough childhood. My parents weren’t rich but we got lots of experiences other kids missed. I learned to swim before I graduated from the first grade. We travelled across the country numerous times, driving as a family, taking an entire month off for vacations. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t particularly motivated about college other than the deferment it would give me for the draft. I’m a big guy, so I would be a larger target when the shooting started. After two years at a tech school, I worked for a year before going into the Air Force. Didn’t get what I wanted but did get a lot of experiences I might not have gotten otherwise. Learned to ride motorcycles, and play volleyball. Did an overseas tour in Nebraska, and worked for the guy the movie BAT 21 was about.

And when I was established in the corporate world, I still pushed the limits much of the time. It didn’t do anything for my career, but I saw a lot of interesting ideas and was years or decades ahead of my colleagues when it cam to doing better work. Only I didn’t enjoy it very much. There were times when I was focused and directed, but years when I was just getting by.

I don’t want to live like that anymore. I don’t need to be good at stuff that lots of people can do. I need to get great at stuff that no one else is doing, or only a few people are doing. Our world will need the kinds of stuff I think I can deliver.

I can get on that train and go to that fencing match and lose every game. Failing is learning, assuming you get up and try again.

Why aspire to more? Because I’ve tasted how things could work better and I want to do it again.

Anyone want to join me?

Being Wrong

June 22, 2011

Kathryn Schulz gave a superb talk at TED back in March, 2011. I just watched the video and will be buying her book later today. If you go watch the video now, what I’m going to say next will make more sense.

Okay, I’m going to assume you just had your perspective adjusted by her talk. Consider this idea I had a few months back.

  • I am a failurist. I learn new things about myself and the world around me by welcoming the opportunity to fail. I am no longer striving to be perfect, but I am striving to change.
  • I think other people would be much happier and maybe more productive if they embraced the possibility of failure as a cost for success. Doing the same old things and getting the same old results isn’t going to help you in the future. You need to try and perhaps fail using ideas that others have tried and gotten to work. They didn’t get them to work right away; they failed a few times. Get on with it.
  • To help all of us get better at being failurists, I’m going to start a new category on this blog, calling it the Failurist Manifesto. This post will be the anchor that attracts people into that domain, where I intend to (and perhaps fail at) sharing my experiences as a failurist.

That’s all I have to say today. I need to go out and help my wife organize our compost pile. I suggest you do something similar, and go play with the rich organic material that was once your leftovers or lawn.